Habit Your Way
First we make our habits, then our habits make us. ~ Charles C. Noble
Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones. ~ Benjamin Franklin
William James said we are two beings. One is instinctual, the animal inside that asks for food when it's hungry and for sleep when it's tired. The other is the rational being inside developing rules to domesticate the animal. We wait for the right time to eat, the right person to marry and we obey social rules developed by our culture and environment. Both beings use one of the most wonderful gifts given us, the ability to do things without thinking. Once we learn something that occurs on a regular basis, we go on autopilot and are able to concentrate on other things that require more, well, concentration. Driving home from work becomes so ingrained in us that we will wind up there even if we are supposed to go somewhere else that day. You walk in the door and your spouse says: "Where are the kids?" and you realize your autopilot was more powerful than your memory.
The things we do without thinking are called habits. When a familiar thought or happening or sometimes even a smell or sound causes you to respond in a certain way, we call the thing that prompted it a "trigger." Most of us are like that. We react to the situation or "trigger" through a habit formed from past experience.
Those who learn to use habits in an effective way are among the most successful members of our society. Aristotle said : We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit. You can create and harness a habit to work for you in the direction of a personally picked goal. Once you evaluate and set the priorities of your life, you can make a plan to accomplish your goals in a way that sets you free by putting more and more activities on autopilot. In the recent movie Tron Legacy, Flynn does just that--he creates an avatar (Clu) to help him create the perfect world. In the movie as in life, the habits we create can be an incredible force for good or a powerful adversary. Those of us who wish to be our very best learn to curb unhealthy habits and encourage the ones that empower us and help us to fulfill our goals.
Steven Covey helped us realize that the habits of success and effectiveness revolve around our own core values and our relationships with others. When you respect and value yourself you can relate successfully to others. This means you make room for and include them in your schedule and plans. When you respect others who support you in your goals, you are more likely to succeed in a way that builds character and relationships.
Habit Your Way means that
1. YOU set a goal based on your personal values,
2. YOU make choices to change or create behaviors consistent with that goal,
3. YOU respect and involve others to support you in achieving the goal and
4. YOU do the hard work of repetition and focus that turns a goal into a habit
Halfway through a 70 mile bike ride, a personal goal of mine, I was talking to a woman sitting next to us at In-N-Out who won an office contest to lose the most weight in a certain time period. I asked her how she did it and she admitted she went to one of the commercial weight loss programs. When I asked what she liked about the program she echoed several of the four things below that I believe are fundamental to changing old habits and making healthy ones.
1. Accountability--When you have to report to someone else how you are doing, you are more likely to do it the right way.
2. Support--Other people who are going through the same things as you can be a tremendous help by cheering you on or being there for you when times are hard.
3. Structure--Making a plan and sticking to a schedule helps you to keep from getting distracted or doing things in a non-helpful manner. For example, the woman in the diet contest utilized her particular program's prepared meals to make it easier to stay on her diet.
4. Higher Power--Habits can be so ingrained that you need more help than your own resources can provide. I've found that even those who do not identify with a religion will welcome a prayer on their behalf when life gets tough. I say get all the help you can.
Wisdom from twelve step programs: Examine your life and make a list of the things you would like to change. Share these with someone else and determine that, with God's help, you will change them. If these unhealthy habits have harmed others, apologize and make it right if possible. Continue this process, relying on God's wisdom and help and be an influence for others to change as well.
You only have one life. It is much too short to spend it wishing you had made better choices. Socrates, on trial for his life because of encouraging students to challenge their world and think for themselves, said that the unexamined life is not worth living. What would happen if you really examined your life? Is your routine and everyday behavior keeping you from realizing your life goals? If so, try trading in some of those unhealthy, distracting habits for some new, empowering ones.
Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing. ~ Vince Lombardi
If you want your life to be a magnificent story, then begin by realizing that you are the author and everyday you have the opportunity to write a new page. ~ Mark Houlahan
Never Underestimate the Power of a Triggering Motivation
Habits? the only reason they persist is that they are offering some satisfaction? You allow them to persist by not seeking any other, better form of satisfying the same needs. Every habit, good or bad, is acquired and learned in the same way - by finding that it is a means of satisfaction. ~ Juliene Berk
Bad habits are like chains that are too light to feel until they are too heavy to carry. ~ Warren Buffet
I have noticed that many of the male writers in Hubpages become eloquent in their comments when the avatar of the female writer is particularly attractive. For males, a beautiful woman can trigger action and this phenomenon has been capitalized on successfully by marketers for most of our history. Females are not immune either. Handsome young teen idols sell countless products to smitten young girls, beautiful people in the latest fashions trigger impulse buying and the Marlboro man led a generation of young men to cigarette habits and a rendezvous with lung cancer.
By identifying what triggers our unwanted habit, we can substitute more appropriate techniques to manage our emotional problems and then create a positive, healthy habit in its place.
How to Identify Your Habit Triggers
Things that trigger us fall into these main categories:
Your Emotions: When you feel tired, bored, angry, depressed, tense, anxious, under stress or lonely, most of us at some times allow these powerful triggers in life and bring out the worst in us. Alcoholism or drug use, overeating, arguments, acting out and gang behavior are just some of the habits that drain our potential and the resources of society to combat them.
Certain Situations: Because the opportunity is there. For example, seeing an advertisement or passing by a specific location. When I pass by a certain bakery, the super fudgey brownie calls to me like a siren. The solution to changing this habit may just involve finding an alternate route. Habits may also be triggered by association with certain activities such as watching TV, going to the movies (smelling the popcorn, big screen action and snacks.) or a sporting event (fighting at hockey matches,) or a rock concert (drinking and drug use.)
Your Thoughts: Everyone feels bad at one time or another for screwing up or your self worth is low and you tell yourself you are hopeless and a loser. This is what makes the classic books like Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich or Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking so incredibly successful. We need to hear ourselves saying what builds our self esteem. Putting positive affirmations on Post-Its and putting them where you will routinely see them or playing motivational cds can be a positive trigger.
Your Physical Condition: Our physical discomforts can trigger actions that may be unhealthy. Talking on an empty and growling stomach can often tie into a habit of verbally lashing out. Some people are to be avoided if they haven't had their coffee. A simple headache can trigger a familiar argument or avoidance behaviors. While some obsessive behavior seems to be triggered by many cues such as cracks on the sidewalk, unwashed door handles etc, the real trigger is the physiological or mental condition. Avoid trying to deal with actions when the underlying physical condition is the real thing to be addressed.
Social Influences: What others think or say about us has a tremendous impact on our behaviors. Harmful influences such as gangs can trigger all kinds of destructive behavior and habits. But by the same token, if you want to achieve a success goal, such as financial independence, you can make your habit trigger being around financially successful people. If your goal is to achieve a productive and influential life, you can find those who are encouraging and positive. Your natural tendency to fit in will trigger the motivation to do that interview, market your services, make those sales calls, or whatever habit you have chosen to use to achieve your goal. When you are around people who are always financially struggling or dysfunctional socially and always have an excuse for it, their bad habits will move you in the opposite direction of your goal.
You might say "Being around successful people intimidates me and makes me feel inadequate. I feel much more comfortable around ordinary people who are struggling." There is only one appropriate response for this: "No pain, no gain"--voluntarily putting yourself in a situation that makes you uncomfortable but is pursuing your goal can be as satisfying as a hard workout. The results far outweigh the initial discomfort.
Ways to Discourage Bad Habits
Any habit that does not fit your life goals is one you should eliminate. Use the checklist above to identify what triggers the actions and either change your mind set to avoid the habit or substitute another, more positive habit.
Once my partner told me she was going to do a certain action and I immediately responded with an emotional, negative reply with accompanying feelings of sadness. When she questioned why I responded that way, I asked myself the same question and I realized that I did not really think what I had said. It was a knee-jerk reaction of feelings developed during painful adolescence. When I correctly identified the origin of my feelings, I simply made a mental adjustment and was never bothered by that activity again.
You can also create a new habit to replace the old. Responses to our environment which are repeated enough lead to specific chemical and electrical neural pathways in our brains that shape who we are and how we feel and act. It is like walking the same way through the tall grass in a field until a path is formed.
Later in the article I will show you how to do that, but sometimes, all that is necessary is a simple distraction. Here are some ways to take your mind off the trigger that would pull you into a bad habit:
- Keep yourself busy with necessary chores like cleaning the house or yard, paying the bills, or designing a new layout or closet.
- Play a game with friends or watch a movie.
- Go to a social or educational event.
- Catch up on your writing, letters or study.
- Physical exercise often can take your mind and emotions off the unhealthy triggered urges. When I have finished a challenging mountain bike adventure, I am filled with natural endorphins and good will that goes a long way to improving my attitude and actions.
- Meditation and prayer often calms and encourages you when self-control isn't enough. My employees have noticed this phenomenon first hand so that whenever tempers flare, whether they personally have faith or not, they ask if we can pray because they see the positive difference in behaviors.
Habits of Champions
Knowledge is power, community is strength and positive attitude is everything
~ Lance Armstrong
When Lance Armstrong was beginning to enter competitions with some heavy and respected cyclists, he found himself challenging the best even when he should have held back. Because he was such a strong rider, he would attack too early and wind up behind. Instead of yelling at him, his coaches let him experience some of the consequences of his behavior. He finally began to ask himself, "If I am the strongest, why aren't I winning?" It was at this point of deciding that his habits were not helping him be what he wanted to be, that he began to change his actions. He forced himself to wait until it was time to move. By realizing that patience was not the same as being weak, he let knowledge overcome his instinct. He let the encouragement of his coaches and colleagues influence him to be patient.
Habits you form for other purposes can be harnessed for a new goal.
Toni Morrison says: "I was writing Beloved, at that time–this was in 1983–and eventually I realized that I was clearer-headed, more confident and generally more intelligent in the morning. The habit of getting up early, which I had formed when the children were young, now became my choice."
If you have a habit of talking to a best friend every day, use the opportunity to report to them and have them support you in your new, healthy habit goal. If you want to eat less and you have a habit of eating at the same favorite restaurants, use their nutrition information and pick out meals you can have and stick to them. One of my favorites, for example, the fast growing Corner Bakery has a new menu of 100 combinations under 600 calories. The trick is to make the choice that if you go to that restaurant, you can only choose from these.
Barack Obama has used his habit of breakfast with his kids and helping them get off to school to his advantage now that he "lives over the store." Having this link and repetition frees him up to follow his routine in the Oval Office.
Keys to Forming a Successful Habit
Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going. ~ Jim Ryun
1. Want it. When you are creating a helpful habit, the most important thing
is to have sufficient motivation. Before you begin, ask yourself why you want to achieve
this goal, and how much you want it. If it is in the categories of things we most value--God, family, friends,
job, etc., the more likely we will succeed in creating and maintaining the habit.
2.Write out a plan. with dates and actions. Think about obstacles, and write down your strategy for overcoming them. Arrange circumstances, conditions, schedules in ways that reinforce the new pattern and discourages the old. Decide what you are going to do with the "triggers" you will encounter. Choose some alternate triggers which will reinforce your new, healthy habit. Having a plan shows that you are serious.
3. One habit at a time. Kierkegaard said that "Purity of heart is to will one thing." When you work on too many things at once it is difficult to maintain your concentration and discipline and in fact, may stop you from starting at all. Once you have created and sufficiently reinforced the one pattern of behavior, it becomes automatic (habit) and this allows you to go on to the next one.
4.Build up to it. Instead of tackling a big project at once, work on a smaller part and let these "mini-habits" help you with the big one. If you want to develop the habit of running for exercise, you don't want to start with the Boston Marathon. You might start running around a track or the block and then try a few 5K's (3.1 miles) and then move to 10K's. (6.2 miles.)
5. Prioritize your Schedule Pick a time with the least amount of distractions and be absolutely consistent with it. When travelers want to quickly overcome jet lag and get themselves on their new schedule, experts find that even if you aren't able to fall asleep at your regular time, getting up exactly when the alarm goes off is critical, especially when it is reinforced with bright lights and, in my case, loud music. If your schedule is too full, try throwing out things that aren't part of your core values.
6. Find ways to maintain your focus.
Give yourself a theme song. Ask
others to give you encouragement (be careful not to let them take over
the motivation, that's yours.) Write yourself post-its, make a poster of
your goals, follow your progress on a calendar, and most importantly,
keep a journal of your progress so you can adjust if necessary. Start
every day by visualizing your goal and how you will look and feel when
it is accomplished.
7. Make it routine. A habit is merely something you have made routine. After you have made your plan, scheduled the time, put it on the calendar and arranged for support from your friends or family, determine that you will do it religiously. Consistency is crucial and each day you succeed makes it more likely you will not break stride. Someone has said it takes 21 days of doing a thing to make it into a habit. That allows you to form one habit a month with a few days left over to plan and get ready for it.
8. Make it Fun.
Zig Ziglar says that healthy habits are difficult to create but easy to
live with. Bad habits are easy to create and difficult to live with.
The more you find ways to reward each small step towards your goal, the
more fun it will be and it will help propel you forward to success.
A habit is a path you make towards a goal. The more time you spend on your path, the easier it is to reach your goal. ~ Winsome
Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action. ~ Benjamin Disraeli